Skip to main content

Four Takeaways from the First Fifty Days

In just fifty days, Joe Biden has taken plenty of us — including me — by surprise.

He is clearly rising to the occasion, displaying skills few knew he had. He has learned the trick of under-promising and over-delivering, and when he makes a promise, he knows ahead of time that it’s a sure thing.

He also has an apparent gift for delegating the right jobs to the right people. He lets them do their thing while he gives them cover, benignly hovering above the fray. So far, it’s working. Let’s hear it for old white guys with something left in the tank.

So the fifty-day mark seems a good time to step back and make a few observations, not so much about Biden, as because of him.

Boring but Radical

It was Ted Cruz, of all people, who nailed it, albeit unintentionally. In a tweet last week he proclaimed Joe Biden “boring but radical.” He was being nasty, of course, because nasty is all he knows.

But to me, it was validation. After four years of total batshit craziness, it turns out boring and radical were exactly the two qualities I was looking for in a president.

Boring. As in wow, I can go a whole day without thinking about my president. As in hey, I don’t have to worry about some whimsical atrocity — some shoot-from-the-hip nuclear launch — that might happen if I step away for one minute.

Radical. As in gee, funneling money to people who actually need it for a change is radical. As in yes, reversing the course of the last forty years — from Reagan to Trump — is radical.

Indeed, Biden is boring, and brilliantly so. He’s not holding news conferences. He’s not making any of the gaffes the press is so fond of. He’s not giving Republicans a scintilla of dirt to make scandal from. He’s pushing them into a corner where they have nothing left but transparent gaslighting and voter suppression to fall back on. This is, oddly, a victory for us.

The Revenge of the S-Word

I’ve said before that the easiest way to think of socialism is as another word for government. This is especially true now, with the passage of the American Rescue Plan.

When the wingnuts on the right label it socialism, not one of them has the intellectual chops to defend that statement. Even so, they’re correct. The rescue plan is socialism at its finest, at least by the standards of this country. It’s government, finally, intervening in the economy to achieve social goals and promote the common good.

Socialism and capitalism aren’t opposites. They’re a balancing act, two sides of a seesaw. As practiced, especially in Europe, socialism assumes that capitalist activity — market-based commerce — will naturally dominate the economic landscape. But it also assumes that this domination needs to be tempered by regulation — another dirty word on the right. Socialism is all about government getting the right balance — letting capitalists do their thing, while keeping them inside a set of guardrails.

But in this country, socialism remains a loaded word, shrouded in ignorance, and I wish we could retire it for good.

On the left, people who call themselves socialists have only the vaguest, schoolkid’s understanding of what it means. They long for some pure, unattainable utopia, and they whine about any policy accomplishment that falls short of that ideal. Demanding the perfect, they refuse to accept the good.

On the right, socialism is a four-letter word, and beyond using it as a bludgeon to bash Democrats, they have no idea what they’re talking about. Flinging the S-word around is a time-honored Republican strategy. And it remains effective, despite the overt cynicism behind it, and their inability to put forward any meaningful alternative.

Still, it’s hard to deny that some very socialistic ideas are now moving to the front of the line, and it’s making the right predictably crazy. That alone is reason to celebrate.

Injection Porn

Am I the only one who is sick — literally sick — of seeing hypodermic needles jabbed into arms?

The media seems incapable of running a single story about vaccinations, without the obligatory cavalcade of needles penetrating skin with varying degrees of force. Ouch.

This is ubiquitous. Local news, national news, Black, white, old, young, videos, stills, close-ups, portraits. Apparently, we can’t get enough of needles in arms.

There’s something innately American about it. It’s not exactly new news that we, as a society, have an unhealthy obsession with violence. Even those of us who abhor violence succumb to its charms. We allow it to entertain us — in movies, artworks, novels — even as we hate ourselves for liking it. It’s a form of pornography, and it desensitizes us.

The act of plunging any sharp object into any body part is, to be sure, a violent act. The fact that these are not switchblades in a back alley, but rather hypodermics performing a valuable social function, only serves to legitimize the guilty pleasure we take in watching it. So watch it we do, over and over and over, whether we want to or not, sometimes as many as ten shots in a half-hour newscast. Every day for the next six months.

Personally, I’m not getting any pleasure, guilty or otherwise. On the contrary, all this poking and stabbing is making me squeamish. Which I wasn’t before.

I took my own two shots bravely — I didn’t cry or anything — as they were, in fact, quite painless. Yet for some reason, I now wince with every shot I see on TV. As if I feel the pain of those on camera more than I felt my own. Evidently, I’ve been de-desensitized.

Go Ahead, Spike the Ball

Finally, a message to Democrats: please loosen up. It’s not that there isn’t a ton more stuff that needs doing. It’s not that the boulder we’re pushing doesn’t get heavier, or the hill we’re pushing it up steeper.

But we do need to acknowledge when something goes right. After a long and shameful absence, we’re finally seeing government back in action. This stands in such stunning contrast to the insanity of the last four years, we can hardly believe our eyes.

It should be a joy to watch. But being Democrats, we don’t do joy. We don’t believe in good news. Democrats think every glass is half empty, and was probably spiked by Republicans.

Of course, the GOP will continue to lie, cheat, steal, and suppress voting wherever they can. Of course, the filibuster is still an obstruction. Of course, our infrastructure and the environment are screaming for many trillions of dollars, and soon. Of course, we need to treat the 2022 midterms as yet one more life-or-death election, ho-hum.

Pessimism’s easy, and we can always get back to it. But the rescue plan is a huge deal, and we can afford to take a minute to pat ourselves on the back. For tossing out Trump. For pushing back against the asshole agenda. For putting competent people back in charge.

So why not do a little dance in the end zone? Why not spike the ball? The game’s not over, not by a long shot. But just maybe the momentum is swinging.

 

Comments

  1. "Boring. As in wow, I can go a whole day without thinking about my president. As in hey,
    I don’t have to worry about some whimsical atrocity — some shoot-from-the-hip nuclear
    launch — that might happen if I step away for one minute."

    Agreed.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think you make a creative and interesting and valid point about injection porn.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the insightful commentary.

    I like your 'socialism is another word for government'.

    Another angle on the inane bantering about of the word "socialism" is that Humans are a Social Animal. Duh. We don't function or survive individually (in fact few if any species do). Life itself is innately 'socialist'.

    Ironically the vast US Defense apparatus is purely government funded, purely socialist. A US Army or Air Force base resembles Cuba or Maoist China at their finest. No 'free market' to get in the way of comfortable consistent affluence.


    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Socialism is Just Another Word for Government

  I’m treating myself to a week off — holiday season and all — and so, once again, I’m re-publishing an essay I posted over a year ago, before the November election. The subject is socialism, and as it happens, I just this week used similar themes in a much shorter letter to the New York Times, responding to an article on the same subject. I’ve just been informed that NYT is publishing the letter sometime this week. Meanwhile, the original is, I think, well worth another look.   Call it the S-word, the dirtiest word in American politics. To say that socialism is vastly misunderstood doesn’t begin to state the case. It’s a word that has been cynically manipulated by all manner of right-wing nuts for roughly a century, and it never seems to lose its power to get them worked up. Yet they’ve largely succeeded in villainizing and undermining what is, ironically, a deeply embedded aspect of our society. The usual definitions just confuse the discussion. They tend

Virginia Wakes Up and Smells the AstroTurf

Can we please stipulate that there is no idea quite so absurd as parents dictating the curriculum of public schools? Sure, parents can — and should — participate in the process. They can organize. They can advocate for change. They can get themselves elected to the school board. But when you consider all the whackos out there raising whacko children, the social contract surely demands that we leave public education in the hands of professional educators. This obvious idea — fundamental to an education system that was once the envy of the world — is currently under assault from the right. And it took a direct hit last week in Virginia. Republicans, as usual, invented a cause they could flog — “parental rights” — which they used as a dog whistle for the advancement of science denial and white supremacy. They managed to get a lot of voters riled up, first about vaccine mandates, then about the teaching of critical race theory. And they convinced too many gullible parents that they

Covid Isn’t Just About Dying Anymore

“No twenty-five-year-old thinks they’re going to end up on a ventilator. But tell them they’re going to have erectile dysfunction, their teeth will fall out, and they’ll never go to the gym again? They’ll get vaccinated and they’ll be double-masked.”                            —    Diana Berrent,  of Survivor Corps , a “Long Covid” support group   I’ve recently caught wind of certain semi-educated citizens who consider the prospect of dying of Covid to be some sort of patriotic act. They’ve refused the vaccine for ostensibly political reasons. They’ve been blasé about exposing themselves to the virus. Now they’ve caught it and decided they’ll ride it wherever it takes them, including to the grave. I don’t think they’ve thought this through. Because death, it turns out, could be the least of their problems. They could be looking at chronic disability — a dreary future of lifestyle disruption, family trauma, economic hardship, and long-term relationships with the medical communi